Mark Lamster

Critic; Writer / United States /

Mark Lamster’s Notable Books of 2013

6 books

Phyllis Lambert’s long-anticipated book on the making and maintenance of New York’s greatest postwar building is a unique hybrid, at once a scholarly history, a memoir of her own experience as daughter of Seagram chief Sam Bronfman, and a manifesto for civic responsibility in architecture and urban planning.

Lambert writes with precision and great passion, and largely alters the conventional wisdom about the building, giving greater credit to Philip Johnson. Her account of the building process, the development of an art program, and the efforts to protect the building are great contributions to the record.

Vishaan Chakrabarti

Urban planning is the topic de jour in the design field, the subject of a raft of new titles from authors with diverse agendas. Chakrabarti's is among the most readable and cogent of the recent offerings. Pitched as a manifesto, A Country of Cities is at its best when arguing for the dense city (as against the suburbs and rural areas), as the most sustainable, ecologically responsiblle form of habitation for the coming century. Material that can be dry (the mechanics of tax-increment financing, or the relative ecological impact of various housing densities) are enlivened by excellent infographics and enough aphoristic slogans to please a latenight pitchman on cable TV.

Chakrabarti is both an academic planner and a practitioner (he is a partner at SHoP Architects, in New York), and he makes no secret of his belief in real-estate development as the key to the city's future. New Urbanists may not agree with his prescription of tall buildings as an elixir to urban problems, and there are occasional moments when the book seems a bit self-promotional, but it nevertheless stands as a critically important argument, fully worthy of attention.

Corinne Bélier Editor
Marc le Coeur Editor

Labrouste essentially invented the modern public library as a typology when he built the Bibliothèque St. Geneviève and then the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in the 19th century. These works, detailed with exceptional Beaux Arts precision—as a draftsman, Labrouste had no equal—first celebrated iron as a structural element in works of grand architectural ambition, suggesting that it could be used in typologies that were not only industrial. For this, he has been understood as a proto-modernist. But as Barry Bergdoll notes in this exceptional book, successive generations have adopted Labrouste and interpreted his work to suit their own ideological proclivities. That is likely to happen again, with the library a typology now being reinvented for a new century.

Amanda Reeser Lawrence

James Stirling has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance over the past couple of years, and it's both overdue and unfortunate that he's no longer around to experience it. (He died in 1992, having been tagged with that most unfortunate of labels: "postmodernist.") Not quite a monograph, and not quite a history, but a bit of both, here Reeser Lawrence surveys the arc of Stirling's career by focusing in depth on a series of six projects, some built and others not. While academic studies of this type are typically jargon-ridden and dense to the point of obfuscation, this one is blessedly clear-eyed, written in straightforward and engaging prose that is no less incisive for its transparency. It is serious architectural history as it should be, devoted to a complex and challenging subject that warrants the attention.

Jean-Louis Cohen

This book accompanies an unwieldily scattershot show that was not successful in defending its thesis that Le Corbusier was “profoundly rooted in nature in landscape,” except in the most anodyne reading of that phrase. The catalogue is similarly unwieldy, but in this case diversity is a strength.

A great omnibus of Le Corbusier scholarship, it presents nearly 75 essays on the master’s works, organized in “atlas” form. (Each continent is represented with a wonderful graphic showing built and unbuilt works, and the architect's travels.) The essays vary in relative interest and brio, but the whole makes for an indispensable and handsome resource to be sampled with great pleasure.

Jenny Uglow

The Pinecone tells the story of an heiress from a corner of the verdant English countryside who devotes herself to building a small parish church of considerable charm and idiosyncracy. Uglow tells the story with such evident affection for her subject that she dispels any doubts the reader might have as to the actual level of genius involved, and opens a window into a time and space that seems at once remote and familiar.

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